Embroiled in a bitter war of words until recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee displayed an unusual camaraderie on Saturday, holding two one-on-one meetings and sharing the dais at the launch of social security schemes by the PM. Banerjee also sought Modi’s personal intervention in getting a waiver for the state’s Rs 2.74 lakh crore debt.
“States and the Centre must work together for overall development of the masses,” the CM said at an event where Modi launched three social security schemes, including an insurance cover for less than Rs 1 per day. The other two schemes related to the pension sector and the process of financial inclusion.
The two leaders, who shared the dais for the first time since Modi came to power, surprised everyone with the bonhomie on stage, where both took digs at the previous Congress and Left governments at the Centre and state, respectively.
A hint of their previous heated exchanges was visible when Banerjee complained that “about 1,000 gram panchayats out of 3,500 in the state have no banking services”.
Modi, however, turned around the statement to his advantage. “She has placed the complaint in front of me as she has the confidence that only I can address it,” Modi said to laughs.
The two leaders held a formal meeting at Raj Bhavan later in the evening where Banerjee sought his personal intervention on a number of issues, including a debt waiver for the state and restoration of funds for centrally-sponsored schemes which, she said, had been curtailed drastically.
“In view of the highly debt-stressed condition of the state, West Bengal is caught in a vicious debt trap due to debt burden left by the previous Left Front government,” Banerjee said in a letter she personally handed to Modi.
Saturday’s meetings were in complete contrast to the bitter relationship shared by the two leaders for the last one year. Banerjee had threatened to drag Modi to jail in the run up to last year’s Lok Sabha election and had accused his government of settling political scores through CBI investigation of the Saradha scam. Modi, too, had raised questions on the sale of Banerjee’s paintings.
The first signs of thaw came when Banerjee met the prime minister in Delhi on March 10 and sought a debt waiver. Over the past few days, the Trinamool Congress has supported the government on key bills, including the GST bill and the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh.
Saturday’s developments triggered a flurry of criticism from opposition parties. “After Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with the prime minister in Delhi in March, the CBI probe in Saradha has slowed down significantly. Trinamool too has given its support to a few important bills. The political give-and-take is clear as daylight,” said Abdul Mannan, a senior Congress leader.
“They share an old relation, they are natural allies. In between they had a few tiffs. What’s happening now can be described as miley sur mera tumhara,” said Md Selim, politburo member of CPI(M) and a Lok Sabha member.
While the BJP brushed aside allegations of quid pro quo, Trinamool leaders said it was the best time for the CM to reach out to Modi as “BJP stands decimated in the state”.